Rioters in 16-hour battle at migrant removal centre

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The Independent Online

Specialist teams of anti-riot prison officers spent more than 16 hours fighting to quell a riot that engulfed Britain's largest and most troubled immigrant removal centre.

The Home Office accused detainees of staging "a deliberate attempt at sabotage" to stop them being deported after all four wings were hit by trouble early yesterday morning.

Lin Homer, the director general of the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate, said detainees were being moved to other centres or to prison after a day of unrest. She vowed that no foreign prisoners would be released and said the Home Office would continue "vigorously" to remove people from Britain.

Specially trained officers from across southern England rushed to the Harmondsworth centre, west London, after a series of fires were lit and staff lost control. Police sealed the perimeter as dozens of inmates were seen crowding a yard. The words "SOS Freedom" were scrawled on a sports court.

The disturbances came less than 24 hours after the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, delivered a damning verdict on Harmondsworth, saying her report was the worst she had had to write on such a detention centre. Ms Owers said six out of 10 detainees felt unsafe and criticised high levels of force.

The centre was opened five years ago to hold foreign nationals. Two thousand are brought to the centre every month before they are flown out of Britain.